How Michigan’s defense dominates the opposition

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On Big Ten Media Day, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was very confident about the Wolverines defense in 2022.

“I’ve been on a lot of teams where the no-star defense was the best defense because there’s more competition within the position groups,” Harbaugh said in July. “There are more hungry guys like David Ojabo was a year ago. A thirst for being great. That’s why I feel like watching him, I just have a sneaky suspicion that he might even be better in defense.

Fast forward to November – Michigan is the No. 3 team in the nation, they’re off to their first 10-0 start since 2006, and their defensive performance is a big reason why.

  • Michigan’s defense has given up the fewest first downs in the nation with 127.
  • Defense ranks first in rushing defense, allowing just 72.7 yards per game
  • The Michigan defense ranks first in defensive scoring, allowing 11.2 points per game.
  • The unit ranks first in total defense, giving up a modest 232.8 yards per game.

Following Michigan’s 34-3 win over Nebraska, Harbaugh paid tribute to many Michigan coaches and players for their efforts this season.

“They get a lot of attention in our program. Really do a great job. All positions play really well. The linebackers, the inside defensive line, are having a great season. Mazi and Kris Jenkins, Mason Graham are doing so well. The guys on board, they just keep coming. So many very good players doing a great job.

They are really well trained. Jesse and Mike Elston, and Clink (Steve Clinkscale) know what he’s doing at the back. It’s really good and really special. The corners now, there’s a nice rotation with DJ (Turner) and Mikey (Sainristil) and Gemon (Green) and Will (Johnson). And the safeties, Rod Moore does a terrific job. I wish I had more Rod Moores. Guy is a tackle machine, he puts them on the floor.

You get the idea, Harbaugh loves Michigan’s defense and these are just a few of the players who are having stellar seasons. There are other guys like Mike Morris, Junior Colson, Michael Barrett and Eyabi Okie who have all made major contributions. The Michigan defense has a lot of good players at all levels.

“I can’t say enough great things. How they run for the ball. The team’s defense was great. Keep rolling.”

Another area where the Michigan defense has excelled this season is in second-half adjustments. Over the past five games, the defense has given up just three points in the second half and zero in the fourth quarter.

“Coach Minter and all the defensive staff do a great job when we come in at halftime to make the adjustments,” cornerback Mike Sainristil said. “We don’t give anyone anything in the second half, we just want to keep having shutouts in the second half. We know that in the second half it’s 0-0 and we want to win every half.

While Michigan’s defense is getting deserved praise, they know there’s still work to be done to beat Illinois and Ohio State. Linebacker Junior Colson says the unit knows it can’t achieve perfection, but that’s what it’s looking for, that’s the image it has in its head.

The Michigan defense wants to impose its will and leave a lasting impression on its opponents.

“Our mindset is to just dominate whoever’s in front of us and make sure they remember us the moment they’re done. We’re trying to be defensive there, so it doesn’t matter against who we face,” Colson said. “We’re always going to give them our best shot.”

Michigan coaches helped develop a program that maximized the strengths of their staff. And players took that pattern and executed it at a high pace with a bit of bluster.

Michigan’s defense is in really good shape, and they’ll need to be at their best the rest of the season if the team is to stay undefeated.

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